Writer’s Strike, redux?

Here we go again?

The story in Tuesday’s New York Post suggests another Writer’s Strike may be on tap, ten years after the last one crippled Hollywood for one hundred days.

The Writer’s Guild of America is slated to start negotiations on March 13. The current three-year contract ends on May 1 – timed to coincide with the Upfront presentations to advertisers in New York. A work stoppage could affect the event.

Reports have surfaced the two sides are far apart, and a new deal might not be quick as coming.

Though there has been labor peace in the last few years, things have changed considerably since the last strike: more scripted TV shows (in fact a glut of them, known as “Peak TV”); less dependence on syndication money; shorter TV seasons; the decline of the DVD market; and the growing clout of streaming powers Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

Also, there is a new administration in Washington, which may make it tough on unions.

The last Writer’s Strike took place in the middle of the 2007-08 season, cutting seasons short and hurt ratings for the major broadcast networks. The lack of new programming also hurt local stations’ news ratings for the February sweeps in 2008. The strike hurt scripted shows such as Heroes and forced the cancellation of several sitcoms, notably Girlfriends. The walkout forced the TCA to pull the plug on its Winter Tour and canceled The Golden Globe Awards. 

TV Week (the former Electronic Media) dubbed 2007-08 the “TV season from hell”.

If a Writer’s Strike were to take place, a prolonged lockout could have a financial impact on the television business, potentially delaying the new season. Two similar walkouts did exactly that, with Writer’s Strikes delaying the 1981-82 and 1988-89 seasons. There was also a short Writer’s Strike in 1985.

A Screen Actors Guild strike forced the delay of the 1980-81 season, making viewers wait eight months to find out “Who Shot J.R.” on Dallas, revealed on November 21, 1980.

For more on how on the Writer’s Guild is preparing for the upcoming negotiations, listen to podcast episode number 289 of Scriptnotes featuring screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin. You can listen or download the podcast here.